Category: Sports

Brooklynaire by Sarina Bowen

Brooklynaire by Sarina BowenBrooklynaire by Sarina Bowen
Series: Brooklyn Bruisers #4
Published by Rennie Road Books on February 12th 2018
Pages: 452
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three-half-stars

You'd think a billion dollars, a professional hockey team and a six-bedroom mansion on the Promenade would satisfy a guy. You'd be wrong.

For seven years Rebecca has brightened my office with her wit and her smile. She manages both my hockey team and my sanity. I don't know when I started waking in the night, craving her. All I know is that one whiff of her perfume ruins my concentration. And her laugh makes me hard.

When Rebecca gets hurt, I step in to help. It's what friends do. But what friends don't do is rip off each others' clothes for a single, wild night together.

Now she's avoiding me. She says we're too different, and it can never happen again. So why can't we keep our hands off each other?

Writing this review was difficult, mostly because of the anticipation I had with Nate/Becca’s story—the build-up and the fandom surrounding this couple pretty much came to a feeding frenzy—which Sarina Bowen finally wrote. Most likely then, were my expectations over the top and too fanciful and honestly, probably something no author would want to write, which also meant that my own personal expectations had to be adjusted after I blew through the book.

‘Brooklynaire’ is in essence, a forbidden-ish boss/employee story, with the billionaire hero thrown into it, yet it’s also a very slow, meandering friends-to-lovers romance, after several wrong turns that involved a fair bit of bed-hopping and a pregnancy scare before the delirious HEA happens. Part of it is also a Nate and Becca origins story; the brief details given in their early years were what I loved the most as both protagonists started on their friendship, before the money and glitz came rolling in, back when the guys were just really smart geeks in jeans and hoodies working as a tech startup. Half of the first book took place in the same timeline as the previous book however, filling in the gaps of what we thought might have happened in ‘Pipe Dream’ and it was only in the second half that Bowen brings us onto uncharted ground with their relationship.

I wasn’t too sure what I was exactly expecting, but I did find myself hoping that Nate/Becca’s story had taken a different turn somehow: the amount of OW-drama proved a little too much for my liking, even though the focus remained Nate’s uphill climb to get Becca to see him as the man beneath the suit in a way that didn’t fully push up the dial on the angst. It was frankly, harder to get behind them especially when Nate’s past hammered back in just when their relationship was on the uptick—I thought we could have done without the last, frustrating bit that threw me for a loop.

Still, Bowen has a writing style that sucks you in and never lets go, and her heartfelt characters have quirks (which you like) and a sense of maturity (mostly) that make them generally likeable and more easily relatable than others that I’ve read about. Consequently, finishing any book of Sarina Bowen is no hardship—to this extent I’m in awe of Bowen’s ability to get a reader’s empathy for either one or even both of her protagonists. It’s definitely odd that I thought I would have liked ‘Brooklynaire’ better, though as happy as I am to see Nate/Becca finally getting the ending they should be getting, their story didn’t punch me as emotionally hard as I thought it would have.

three-half-stars

Fair Game by Amy Andrews

Fair Game by Amy AndrewsFair Game by Amy Andrews
Series: Women of W.A.R #3
Published by Escape Publishing on February 20th 2018
Pages: 150
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five-stars

How to mend a broken heart...

Darcy Clarke would do anything to play for the new Women’s Aussie Rules league, even put up with her ex, Tony, who just happens to be the coach of the Brisbane Banshees. Tony stomped out of their apartment – and all over heart – two years ago, but she’s moved on, and she deserves her jersey.

As his best friend’s girl, Darcy has always been out of Levi’s reach, even after Tony dropped her and moved out of the apartment they all shared. Now, two years on and still sharing the same apartment, she should be fair game. But Levi is no closer to getting Darcy to think of him as anything but a roommate and a friend.

But when Darcy injures herself in play, Levi’s qualifications as a sports massage therapist are put to good use. Suddenly, their relationship becomes very hands on, and Darcy sees a whole new side of her old friend. A pity he seems immune to her charms. When Tony makes it clear he wants back into her life, she has a decision to make: between the man she once loved and the man who never left her side.

I’m going to remember ‘Fair Game’ as one of Amy Andrews’s best. For not just the unusual portrayal of a hands-on, sporty, low-maintenance market gardener and the unusual man-bunned, sports therapist, yoga-loving man but also proving, in the world of alpha males and women who sometimes struggle to understand them, that non-stereotypical roles can not only function but function brilliantly.


Who would have thought that an understanding of anatomy would be so useful?

But the best of all? It doesn’t take a footy fan to understand the development of the relationship between Levi and Darcy; Andrews writes their friends-to-lovers journey with a sweet but raunchy and believable build-up, concentrating on characterisation instead, up to the point where you’re convinced that the clothes have to come off (and thankfully they finally do). Levi came across as one of the best top blokes – understanding, supportive and so thoughtful – I’ve had the privilege of reading about and while I didn’t exactly understand Darcy’s initial insistence that a relationship would detract from the many things that were going on in her life, I’m glad that this was resolved fairly easily and quickly with a conclusion that I thought could have benefitted from an epilogue.

Still, ‘Fair Game’ left me a happy camper and considering the reading slump I’ve been having so far, this just made my day.

five-stars

Down by Contact by Santino Hassell

Down by Contact by Santino HassellDown by Contact by Santino Hassell
Series: The Barons, #2
Published by Intermix on January 16th 2018
Pages: 124
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four-stars

Simeon Boudreaux, the New York Barons’ golden-armed quarterback, is blessed with irresistible New Orleans charm and a face to melt your mama’s heart. He’s universally adored by fans and the media. Coming out as gay in solidarity with his teammate hasn’t harmed his reputation in the least—except for some social media taunting from rival linebacker Adrián Bravo.

Though they were once teammates, Adrián views Simeon as a traitor and the number-one name on the New Jersey Predators’ shit list. When animosity between the two NFL players reaches a boiling point on the field, culminating in a dirty fist fight, they’re both benched for six games and sentenced to joint community service teaching sullen, Brooklyn teens how to play ball.

At first, they can barely stand to be in the same room, but running the camp forces them to shape up. With no choice but to work together, Simeon realizes Adrián is more than his alpha-jerk persona, and Adrián begins to question why he’s always had such strong feelings for the gorgeous QB…

The ultimate enemies-to-lovers showdown begins during a pre-season football game with cutting words and ends in an injury, fights that spread even to the fans and a stint doing community service for several weeks. I loved the explosive conflict right from the start—it had me laughing yet tingling with anticipation as I wondered how Santino Hassell was going to navigate the tricky waters of coming out, bisexuality and parental pressure, particularly as top level athletes.

But Hassell manages remarkably well. I didn’t think that Simeon and Adrian could get past their hot, heavy but difficult history, but Hassell’s slow revelation of Adrian’s sullen, vindictive nitpicking at Simeon’s sexuality is a perceptive one, as is his writing of Simeon as someone who isn’t the typical dumb jock/joker unable to see what Adrian is trying to do. And like the men they are, their behaviour is spot on: not terribly heavy on the emotions or the angst. There’s the typical deflection, roundabout admissions and the finality of the acceptance that I’ve come to expect, up to the last few pages when it’s simply breathtaking just to read the complete turnaround that Adrian makes.

There are subtle differences that distinguish Hassell’s writing from the rest of the (rather few M/M) sports romances I’ve read so far, but it’s a style I can easily get used to. It’s stylishly done, perfectly paced, with dialogue that’s unexpectedly edgy, harder and unpredictable—not to mention, the excellent way both Simeon and Adrian are set up that I’m always left guessing how both might react in the situation they find themselves in.

Even as a non-fan of American football, ‘Down By Contact’ is a fantastic read. Hassell has made it more about the protagonists than about the sport (I don’t thankfully, get lost in the details) and way before after Simeon and Adrian ride happily into their sunset, I’m already wondering how Hassell is going to top this.

four-stars

Relay by Layla Reyne

Relay by Layla ReyneRelay by Layla Reyne
Series: Changing Lanes #1
Published by Riptide Publishing on January 8th 2018
Pages: 237
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four-stars

Captain is not a title Alejandro “Alex” Cantu takes lightly. Elected by his teammates to helm the US Men’s Swim Team, he proudly accepts the role, despite juggling endless training, team administrative work, and helping out on the family farm. And despite his ex-lover, Dane Ellis—swimming’s biggest star—also making the Olympic Team.

Dane has been a pawn in his celebrity parents’ empire from crib to pool, flashing his camera-ready smile on demand and staying deeply in the closet. Only once did he drop the act—the summer he fell in love with Alex. Ten years later, Dane longs to cut his parents’ strings, drop his too-bright smile, and beg Alex for another chance.

Alex, though, isn’t ready to forgive and forget, and Dane is a distraction he doesn’t need on his team, until an injury forces Alex to accept Dane as his medley relay anchor. Working together, their passion reignites. When Dane’s parents threaten reprisal and Alex is accused of doping, the two must risk everything to prove Alex’s innocence, to love one another, and to win back their spots on the team, together.

The simmering intensity of testosterone-laden competitive athletes and that crazy energy that they bring to it are what I particularly love about sports romances. Never having read M/M for olympic swimmers, ‘Relay’ quite literally had my eyes popping at the blurb that was followed by furious clicking on Netgalley and earnest prayer that I’d be given an ARC.

From the way Layla Reyne amped it up straight from the start as hostile sparks flew between Alex and Dane, I sat back, licked my chops and knew immediately this was going to be a good one. There were so many things I liked about this: the pairing, the unique pressures that the modern sports celebrity faces, the multiethnic representation of the swim team, the petty politics that goes on behind the performance and practice and the ever-present, pounding anticipation of the upcoming meet that pours off the pages.

And just as I liked the context and the build-up to the Olympics, I was fond of Alex from the start—the overworked athlete struggling to make ends meet and while keeping his swim team in sync and in good spirits, while keeping his heart and head away from Dane Ellis. Alex and Dane as we learn, had a history and one that ended in a nasty way a decade ago, no thanks to Dane.

Consequently, I had a bit of a harder time with Dane, wishing that his own courage wasn’t just limited to pushing his limits in the water. But Reyne peels back the layers to reveal more than a spoilt boy with his hypocritical parents (though I do wonder why religious characters always tend to be the biggest hypocrites in romantic fiction) who had done nothing but control his life.

My only complaint is that some bits felt far-fetched, which made the ending somewhat anti-climatic as everything started and ended during the run up to the heart-pounding Olympics itself: Dane’s ultimate stepping in, the quick resolution, the unrealised but hopeful dream, the rushed HEA.

Or maybe I’m nitpicking about what left me a little dissatisfied, only because ‘Relay’ felt unfinished, like the fall of the curtain before the climax of a play. Still, ‘Relay’ is probably one of the most unusual M/M books I’ve come across and I’m already hopping impatiently for the next one to come.

four-stars

Until You’re Mine by Cindi Madsen

Until You’re Mine by Cindi MadsenUntil You're Mine by Cindi Madsen
Published by Entangled Publishing, LLC: Embrace on January 22nd 2018
Pages: 393
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one-star

You might’ve heard of me, Shane Knox, the guy who rose quickly through the MMA fighter ranks, only to crash just as fast. No one cares about personal reasons when it comes to losing fights and money. I’m determined to get back to where I was. For you to hear my name again. I’ve finally convinced the owner of Team Domination to take a chance and get me back in fighting—and winning—shape. What I didn’t bargain for is the guy’s spitfire of a daughter. Factor in her two professional-fighter brothers who are acting as my coaches and the fact that my career hangs in the balance, and Brooklyn’s the last girl I should be fantasizing about. The closer we get, the more I want Brooklyn. The stakes are high, and I know there’s a big chance of both of us getting hurt, but I won’t stop until she’s mine.

Is there someone you want so much, that you’d do anything it takes, including crossing some lines to make sure that person’s yours?

That was the question that jumped out at me the further I got into “Until You’re Mine”; the rest were just details. I did like Cindi Madsen’s writing, the whole MMA world that she’d created as well as the characters’ back stories, up until that point when I realised that I was actually struggling through the first half of the book.

Brooklyn’s and Shane’s chemistry wasn’t in doubt. Sparks flew. Chests heaved. Clothes nearly came off. But not quite. The only complication? Brooklyn was taken, in a stable relationship that admittedly didn’t have that much fire, which was the only thing that held both Brooklyn and Shane back from burning up the sheets.

And that was where I stopped reading, then struggled to put my thoughts together. The bottom-line was that I found it hard to respect Shane, who kept aggressively pushing the boundaries with Brooklyn—the deliberate moves he put, the heavy innuendos—when she’d all but made it clear a few times that she had a boyfriend. Heroes who go balls-deep in their pursuit of the woman can be fun to read about, but not when they cross some lines and show their lack of common decency.

That Brooklyn had allowed it despite the thin veneer of sense when it came to avoiding Shane she seemed to have made it equally hard to root for her. She did try of course which made me like her a bit more, but her constant engagement with Shane, her quick breakup with her boyfriend after humiliating him in the gym (thanks to Shane again) then jumping into bed with him the very same night somehow made a mockery of that relationship she seemed to exult as safe and treasured because it was exactly the world she wanted out of. It was sort of implied that Brooklyn’s boyfriend had someone else on the line as well who might have been a better fit for him (this was still innocent, unlike Shane/Brooklyn’s hot and heavy stuff), though that shouldn’t have been an excuse just to get both protagonists together, guilt-free.

This wasn’t quite cheating in the physical sense of the word, but it all felt very close to it, which made this pairing difficult to get behind. Admittedly, this wasn’t the sanctity of marriage that was being breached, but I found myself very, very uncomfortable with the general lack of respect for the relationship that Brooklyn was in as both Brooklyn/Shane flirted into unsafe territory, as though it was just a shackle that tied her down and to be gotten rid of.

Clearly, this is just not the book for me. Madsen’s writing is one that I do go back to however (it’s almost a guarantee), but after feeling a little burnt by this read, I’m more than a little wary of the rest of this series.

one-star

Undone by You by Kate Meader

Undone by You by Kate MeaderUndone By You by Kate Meader
Series: Chicago Rebels #3
Published by Pocket Star on March 5th 2018
Pages: 184
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four-stars

Dante Moretti has just landed his dream job: GM of the Chicago Rebels. And screw the haters who think there should be an asterisk next to his name because he’s the first out managing executive in pro hockey. He’s earned the right to be here and nothing will topple him off that perch—especially not an incredibly inconvenient attraction to his star defenseman, Cade “Alamo” Burnett. Cade has always been careful to keep his own desires on the down low, but his hot Italian boss proves to be a temptation he can’t resist. Sure, they both have so much to lose, but no one will ever know...

As Dante and Cade’s taboo affair heats up off the ice and their relationship gets more and more intense, they’ll have to decide: is love worth risking their careers? Or is this romance destined to be forever benched?

A 12-year-age gap between a closeted player and an openly-gay manager along with the implications of a relationship that’s probably forbidden and mostly likely to be massacred by the press and the public? The odds seem unsurmountable. That Cade and Dante play starring roles here made my mind up for me to grab ‘Undone by You’ by hook or by crook.

And Kate Meader makes it work with writing that’s so confident and assured, more so since M/M stories aren’t always on my priority list.

In fact, for its relatively short length, there certainly wasn’t any time wasted with narrative meandering, which made ‘Undone by You’ short, sharp and quite to the point. Cade surprised me by his straight-shooting talk and the mindgames in the dating game that he steered of when it came to Dante won me over. That he was the pursuer took me aback at first, though it wasn’t long that Meader had me rooting wholly for him, particularly when Dante was being a frustrating arse with his inability to decide what he really wanted.

I did think the flurry of activities however, rooted Dante/Cade’s burgeoning relationship very much in the present and I couldn’t even quite determine if their happy-for-now ending was going to last. The story seemed to end on their happy-but-shaky foundation (undoubtedly hard-earned) and the odd epilogue disappointed me when I expected an HFN/HEA-type of closure and I think I would have preferred a ‘boring but normal’ one with Dante and Cade some time down the road, settled in their relationship.

Nonetheless, the aspects of coming out to family and friends and what it meant to be homosexual in a workplace as testosterone-laden as competitive sports made this book a compelling read and Meader’s prose tied these together nicely through that mix of witty dialogue and the internal monologues of both the protagonists and the supporting characters—which I can’t wait to meet again as the series goes on.

four-stars

Love Game by Maggie Wells

Love Game by Maggie WellsLove Game by Maggie Wells
Series: Love Games #1
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on February 6th 2018
Pages: 384
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Kate Snyder scored her first national championship in her undergrad days at Wolcott University, and now she’s a coaching legend. The last thing she wants is to work beside a washed-up coach escaping scandal, but the University hands her Danny McMillan.

Danny was hoping his transition at Wolcott University would go smoothly, but clashing with snarky Kate has made things difficult. Even as she finally lightens up towards him, a local reporter can’t get enough of their verbal fireworks on camera. What the cameras don’t know is that the sparks are even hotter behind the scenes…

Maggie Wells is a new author to me and I did take to her her smooth writing, even though the technical and political details of sports and its management at collegiate and semi-professional level escaped me somewhat. The enemies-to-lovers vibe was strong—especially when it came to the (justifiably) issue of gender inequality exemplified in sports—that was played out in the pages as a running theme here.

Above all, I liked Well’s articulate ‘meta-speak’ on the problems with women and the blatant inequality that they face in the workplace, more so in male-dominated industries.

What I really appreciated was the portrayal of a no-nonsense, strong heroine who has made her way in the male-dominated world of sports first as a celebrated player, then as a legendary coach. Kate’s hard-earned position simply showed what women can do today—despite the fact that she’s probably one of the rare few earning that sort of accolade—and that much kept me going, even if it was to glow (by proxy) in what fictional women can achieve. I felt for Kate nonetheless—the price she kept paying for the position she’d reached was the constant hemming in and the harassment by other male voices whether intentionally or not and it’s a struggle that I think readers can relate to which Wells writes about excellently.

Yet I hadn’t expected her to cave so easily to Danny however, especially after her continued mantra about staying strong and resisting him.

On the other hand, Danny came across as sleazy because of his past—his affair with a student, the scandal that surrounded his previous job, his ready exploitation of willing women because he could, his blatant ignoring the non-fraternisation clause—and somewhat reckless as he fell in lust with Kate and then pursued it with as much vigour as he could, along with some dick-waving episodes with the other characters in the story. That said, I thought Kate/Danny’s connection was more lust than love, which made for a copious amount of scorching sex but apart from that, I couldn’t get their emotional connection. There were parts that I actually struggled through, unable to be convinced about Danny’s declaration of love when it felt like yet another mutinous thing in he’d done in his career.

I think it’s strange to be moved more by the issues here that Wells brought up through Kate than the actual romance itself, which I couldn’t quite take a shine to. Because that was what ‘Love Game’ felt more like to me: the struggle for an independent, successful woman to just be seen as equal despite her achievements, the constant fight to stay on top and the pain borne on the way, rather than a search for a man to add colour to her life.